How Degraded Air Quality Endangers Health of Living Organisms?
Degraded air quality endangers the healthy survival of all living beings. The fact has become widely known that breathing polluted air is hazardous for health. Not only is human health at risk, but plants and animals suffer the impacts of a polluted atmosphere alike.
What is air pollution?
The air is said to be polluted when substances harmful to the health of living organisms are added to it. Many of these substances might as well already exist in the atmosphere. However, when their concentration exceeds the natural balance, they become dangerous for living organisms.
These substances, known as air pollutants, can be chemicals released into the air, biological or particulate matter. As stated earlier, air pollutants do not endanger human health only. The animals and plants are at an equal risk of being harmed.
Ambient and indoor air pollution:
Various anthropogenic activities and processes contribute chemical pollutants to the ambient air, comprising 70% nitrogen and 21% oxygen. Environmental agencies have established an air quality index (AQI) for cities to monitor the level of some potentially harmful pollutants regularly.
The higher the index value, the greater the level of concern. However, pollution is not limited to the outdoors. Indoor air quality is equally important as it determines whether the air inside a building is suitable for health. Asbestos, new floors, pesticides, and cleaning sprays are some of the causes of indoor air pollution.
Causes of Air Pollution:
The numerous sources and causes of air pollution are spread all across the planet. A considerable contribution comes from the industries, power plants, and vehicles. The mere process of fossil fuel burning in industries instigates a series of events that alter the planet’s natural balance in many ways.
While it is true that anthropogenic activities have resulted in a worsened air quality, several natural events also add pollutants into the air. These events include volcanic eruptions, wildfires, dust storms, etc.
Primary and Secondary Pollutants:
Toxic substances or pollutants that are released directly from a source are called primary pollutants. Once in the air, a primary pollutant can undergo chemical reactions with other pollutants or gases and form secondary pollutants.
For instance, ozone in the lower atmosphere is a secondary pollutant that forms due to the combination of nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which, in this case, are the primary pollutants. The reaction occurs in the presence of sunlight.
An atmospheric phenomenon that has become a common sight in many cities around the world is smog. Fog envelopes cities during winters and the black smoke from industries and power plants mix with it to form smog that significantly reduces visibility.
Besides reduced visibility, pollution exacerbates health issues and adversely affects plant growth. People suffering from respiratory diseases are, particularly at risk. The burning of coal, industrial and vehicular emissions introduces nitrogen (NOx) oxides into the atmosphere.
At the same time, aerosol sprays, disinfectants, cleaning agents, and similar substances add VOCs to the atmosphere. With VOCs and NOx in the air, sunlight can start the reaction that produces smog. Smog gives the sky a hazy appearance.
Degraded Air Quality Endangers the Health of All:
As the number of pollutants in the air increases, air quality degrades. The effects of air pollution are more pronounced when people who are already suffering from respiratory diseases breathe polluted air. In such a scenario, the health of many is compromised.
Many healthy people, due to prolonged exposure to polluted air, may develop heart and lung diseases. The brain, liver, and many organs are affected. Some chemical pollutants are thought to be responsible for congenital disabilities.
Similarly, age is another factor determining who is more likely to experience health issues due to bad air quality. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), millions of people die because of the declining air quality every year. In many parts of the world, the air quality does not meet the limits set by WHO.
We are All at Risk:
Humans are not the only sufferers. The metabolic activity of plants can be affected if the leaves absorb air that contains ozone and nitrogen oxides. The agriculture sector might suffer considerable loss in this scenario as plant yield is lost. Similarly, the mere presence of a pollutant in the air can disrupt a whole food chain.
Animals develop diseases and even die when their bodies fail to function normally in the presence of air pollutants. Indoor air pollution can cause headaches and irritation in the throat. Ventilation allows for the dilution of air, and the effect is lessened to some extent.
A person may develop respiratory diseases after being continuously exposed to poor indoor air quality. The health and safety of workers must not be compromised, and all safety standards should be met. For ambient air quality regulation, the governments and environmental protection agencies should design policies and bring about management through emissions reduction.